A Long Way Home: A Memoir by Saroo Brierley

A Long Way Home: A Memoir

(Caidyn)

3.5/5

I read almost all of this in one sitting. Like, by the time I had to actually get up and do something, I had a few chapters left. For me, that’s revolutionary. I don’t have the time to just sit and read these days. But, it was the day after I had taken three finals. I had gotten up at 5AM and didn’t get home/done until after 5PM, so 12 full hours of studying and tests.

This book isn’t a difficult read. Saroo isn’t the best writer, but he’s good enough. After having a very long day, I just needed a book that I could read without thinking too hard about. This was perfect for it. I could read it and experience it, then go on with my day. I didn’t want a book that would make me piece life together and concentrate too much.

And, as I said, Saroo isn’t the best writer. There are times where he could have seriously taken advantage of emotions and hit things home more. Told us his emotions rather than just telling the story. Give us, the readers, a glimpse in. I wish that had been in there more because it just would have emotionally destroyed me rather than make my face pucker up a few times.

I loved him talking about his life in India. That was my favorite part of the book. After he was adopted and went to Australia, it wasn’t as emotionally impactful for me, so I just coasted. When he got to India again, that was another emotional part for me where I was so drawn into the story.

A good book, but it could have been written in a more emotional way to draw me in as a reader. Still good, but I have a feeling that the movie (when I watch it) will give a more emotional punch.

The Stone House by A.K. Benedict

The Stone House (A Class Novel)

(Caidyn)

2.5/5

Oh, this book. I checked it out on a whim. I like Doctor Who and this is a book based on the new spin-off series. I just thought: Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? I should have thought more about my relationship with Doctor Who.

  1. I hate what Moffat did to the show. He ruined two shows for me because he ran them, and Doctor Who is one.
  2. I don’t like YA. Class is a show based on a bunch of teens.
  3. I have never seen the show.

I still have no clue who anyone is. And, they’re 14???? So fucking unbelievable. I know. It’s YA, so teens do tons of shit. It’s sci-fi, so there’s no real reason why they couldn’t do it. It’s Doctor Who, so you can’t use logic. Yeah, yeah. But still. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief about it.

The writing also wasn’t that great. It could have been better with some editing. There’s no need to put “so-and-so says” after almost every line of dialogue. Vary it up. Or just keep a flow going without saying who said what. If we know the character’s voice, it should be obvious to us as a reader.

Back to what I originally said, I had no clue who anyone was. There were five main characters, then some random teacher lady who is probably an alien but “watches” after them. Then, the five main characters. There are two girls and three guys. Two of the guys are in a relationship. Charlie and Matthias? I think? Then there’s either Gram or Ram (never could tell what the narrator said for him) who is dating April. Then Tanya who is “lonely” and definitely is supposed to be a love triangle between Gram/Ram and April. Did I get the characters?

This book assumes that you know the show. That you have some idea who these people are, how they’re related, some of their back story. I don’t have that, so I was at a severe disadvantage. I hate books that assume you know because I always feel like I have to do research to understand them. Either explain it all in the book or, like one of my favorite authors does, have a little section of a run-down before the book begins if it’s a sequel.

The whole plot was okay for me. When it’s all said and done, I really didn’t like the first half, which largely focused on the five members of this little group. Their whole teen drama and lingo annoyed the hell out of me. I mean, seriously. I swear there was one line that said something like: “snapchatting of memories”. And then their little drama of finding themselves and not feeling lonely and whatever. I get that it’s important for teens — it is the major conflict in Erikson’s model during the teenage years — but I’m no longer a teen and I don’t like hearing it.

So, I liked the second part better. I loved hearing more about Amira’s past. A Syrian refugee who went through hell to get to England, and then faced even more hell once she was there. Leave out a creepy house that was either haunted or had aliens and it was perfect for me. I would have loved to hear more about her. I also loved Alice, the person who owned the house. Her story broke my heart and I just wanted more. It was so beautifully written and poignant for me. Those were the strong points of the book and, sadly, they took up very little of it.

I’d only recommend it to someone who likes YA and is familiar with the show. (Aka my fellow blogger, Chantel.) It has potential to be a good book, just that I’m not the reader for it, even if I thought I could be.

Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokenesis by Annie Jacobson

Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis

(Caidyn)

3/5

When I was a kid, I watched a show called Mystery Hunters and I totally wanted to be one. Never heard of it? I don’t blame you. It was a Canadian show on Discovery Kids. They basically took different things and discovered if these mysteries were true or not. One episode I remember vividly was Araya looking into extrasensory perception. He specifically did remote viewing, where he had to guess a location and know things about it. All without ever seeing it before. I don’t remember how he did, just that I found it fascinating.

This book is all about things like that. Remote viewing, implanting thoughts, bending spoons, etc. Think of a Stephen King book and it’s probably in here. Jacobsen looks at these phenomena and how the U.S. government had a huge interest in them. They tested them for decades.

Now, it’s not really a secret. I’m pretty sure that a few people have heard about this. Whatever their opinions are, that’s their thing, but they know about it. Personally, I think that there is some veracity in psychokinesis and extrasensory perception. I think it’s probable that there’s something going on, just based on different anecdotes, research findings, and perhaps your own experiences. We all have had those gut intuitions about things or a sense of deja-vu.

So, I obviously find this topic interesting. (I sure hope so since my senior seminar for psychology is all about intuition.) I’d probably have rated this four stars. However, this only gets three stars because, like the title, this book is too long. Sure, it’s interesting, but there was just too much information and I think that if she had narrowed it down, it would have been better. It’s the same type of information over and over again. There are too many names and people in this for me to keep things straight, especially since this book goes from the 20th century to the 21st century.

Narrowing the focus would have improved my opinion of the book, even if it was full of interesting facts and details.

Ghost Hunt, Volume 9 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Ghost Hunt 9

(Caidyn)

3/5

Where do I begin with this? It’s the same plot and just finishes it up. That’s all the thing is. This one wasn’t as creepy. Maybe because I had gotten used to it and I started remembering more the closer we got to it. I enjoyed the focus on research since I absolutely adore learning about different myths/legends/folklore. It’s all so interesting to me, even when it’s a part of a larger cultural system of beliefs. #religiousstudiesnerd

It’s the same plot and just finishes it up. That’s all the thing is. This one wasn’t as creepy. Maybe because I had gotten used to it and I started remembering more the closer we got to it. I enjoyed the focus on research since I absolutely adore learning about different myths/legends/folklore. It’s all so interesting to me, even when it’s a part of a larger cultural system of beliefs. #religiousstudiesnerd

The same characters were annoying. Naru is just too damn perfect. It’s completely unrealistic to me that he would be so perfect AND everyone still likes him. Sorry, but if a guy’s an asshole, I wouldn’t keep around him. I don’t need him risking my life when he could have solved everything pretty easily and recovered from it. Mai annoys me more and more. She’s just so young and is presented as such. How they want me to believe her to be a legitimate romantic interest for Naru, I don’t know.

My biggest complaint in this volume is the “friendship” between Mai and Masako. It’s so childish that I can’t even describe it. The only reason they get along is because of Naru. They *~~loooooooovvvvveeeeeeee~~* him. That’s complete bullshit. It’s infatuation. You don’t really love him because love is comprised of many different things. Trust me. I’ve taken classes that discuss this concept in depth. What they have is full-on infatuation. But, they’re friends? No. They sort of get along and still are competing for his affection. Mainly they just talk together about him and their *~~feelings~~*.

Their relationship wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test one bit since they only talk about Naru together. It reflects the sexism still embedded in Japanese culture. (Yes, it’s a modern culture. Yes, women still hold jobs. But it’s still a sexist culture when you learn about it.) This series is targeted towards teenage girls and it shows since they draw on stereotypes that they’ll like.

This volume was good, but there are many ways it could have been a lot better.

Utopia by St. Sir Thomas More

Utopia Cover

Caidyn – 3/5
Chantel – 2.5/5

In terms of the writing, Book 1 was a lot more interesting than Book 2. Book 1 was a discourse of what was wrong in typically monarchical Western civilization while Book 2 was a manifesto of what Utopia was like, from their legal system, or lack thereof, to their religion. As a book, it wasn’t terribly interesting, even if the ideas put forth were.

What Sir Thomas More had in mind, however, weren’t ideas that every one of his time would agree upon. In fact, they are closer to our modern ideas in a lot of ways. When reading this, one can see a very odd combination of socialism/egalitarianism, communism,  and utilitarianism, all while keeping with traditional Christian ideas of brotherly love, the dangers of idleness, and how good works can help the whole society. These ideas don’t seem to come together. Communism called for the erasure of religion. Egalitarianism just isn’t inherent in how Christianity gets played out in reality, despite Christ’s teachings.

It’s not uncommon to read a book written a long time ago and find that things are similar to modern life. One thing in particular that stood out for me (Chantel) was the concept of slavery in Utopia, they weren’t people brought over from a foreign land against their will. No, they were people who’d committed crimes in Utopia. In a way, it’s not much different than our own prison systems. Is it humane to strip a criminal of their rights as opposed to an innocent person? Well, when things like adultery are severely punished according to the penal system, then maybe it’s not a perfect system. Just like our own system isn’t perfect.

When it comes to crime in Utopia, there’s definitely an undercurrent of strong Christian values which isn’t surprising. Sir Thomas More was incredibly religious and it shows. Things like premarital sex and adultery were the most shameful in the land of Utopia. From my (Caidyn’s) perspective, it seems that More says that Christianity is inherent to all people. At least, all “civilized” people. The Utopians are civilized, but around this time period, people were discovering new worlds full of people who had practices that were distinctly non-Christian.

There are many interesting ideas in this book that Sir Thomas More puts forth and ideas that I think are relevant even to this day. That’s incredibly progressive at the time he wrote this in the 16th Century. However, we all have our own vision of what a true utopia would be and this is just one man’s vision.

Ghost Hunt, Volume 8 by Shiho Inada and Fuyumi Ono

Ghost Hunt, Vol. 8 (Ghost Hunt, #8)

(Caidyn)

4/5

I’ve only really had one manga that I like and this is it. I watched the anime series on Netflix as a whim. I love ghost-y things and being creeped out is my aesthetic, so it had looked up my alley. And, now I’ve wound up going through interlibrary loan a million times to get the mangas one at a time, even though all of them were made into different episodes.

This didn’t disappoint me on the creepy factor. Possessed people. Weird dreams. Premonition. Terrifying kids. All up my alley completely. And, for a while, I didn’t recognize this story. I still don’t remember the ending, but my heart rate went up for sure. I had on something cheerful in the background because I have to multi-task. Still got freaked out.

However, I still have my problems. As I did in the anime and in the other volumes, I find Mai extremely annoying. She’s just one of those annoying people I hate spending time around. Especially since her mood swings are insane, like in many teen girls. She’s also too perfect, too. In an odd way. Yes, she has her flaws, but she still seems perfect. Everyone sort of just goes with her actions, when I know I’d be calling her out on her shit.

Then, there’s Naru. I like him and I find him interesting, but he’s a Gary-Lou (or whatever the male equivalent of a Mary-Sue is called) to the extreme. He’s 17 and running his own company with tons of money at his fingertips. It’s so unbelievable. Not only that, but he’s so perfect. He can do nothing wrong. Even when he messes up, there’s some way that he fixes it all. I mean, that’s just not how the world works. I worry about anyone giving a teenager that much money and power.

The high rating is just because of the plot and great use of mood to create that intense feeling of foreboding. The main characters could be better. I prefer the side characters to Mai and Naru.

Tales of Yoruba Gods and Heroes by Harold Courlander

Image result for tales of yoruba gods and heroes

(Caidyn)

3.5/5

Ever since I read God Is Not One, I’ve had a bit of an interest in Yoruba practices. There’s a whole section dedicated to the religion. It talks about the different orishas, divining, some of the stories, and also what it looks like in diaspora communities, how it’s formed and shaped into something new and covert thanks to other religions. I found it fascinating to read and I’ve finally gotten around to reading a book about it.

For once, I read a non-fiction book from cover to cover. I read the introduction, which I only sometimes do. I read the stories, obviously. Then, I went and I read the notes on the different stories — basically explaining the differences within the stories depending on the region and culture since all of this is based on oral history. I also read the appendixes. Or sort of did since one of them were just songs. But the appendixes talked about Yoruba practices in the Americas and Cuba.

The stories Courlander chose were pretty interesting. Repetitive and I had to be in the mood to read them, but interesting nonetheless. I still had some problems getting all of the orishas down. I wish there had been a place where Courlander explicitly put the names of different orishas and a brief explanation of who they were in relation to others. It just would have made it clearer for me since all of them had similar names.

The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn by Adrienne Dillard

The Raven's Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn

(Caidyn)

4/5

Full disclosure: I know the author. I’ve read her past books and she asked me to read this. All opinions in this review are my own. And I’m sure that she’s damned relieved to see them.

To be fair, I didn’t like her first fiction novel. I thought that the writing was immature and the characterization wasn’t up to what it should have been. It didn’t read in a way I liked, so I DNFed it and left a bad review. Adrienne was very sweet about it. Then, some months ago, she approached me through Goodreads and told me she had another book coming out. She wanted me to read it to see if she could change my mind. We had a whole long talk about the premise and it’s something I could connect with deeply. More on that in a bit.

Since my primary problem with her last book was with general writing and characterization, I’ll start there. This book was fantastic to read. It read easily, yet it was also written maturely. Basically, it didn’t feel like I was reading the first draft. It felt like I was reading a finely polished book that was completely ready for publication. The writing was great and easy, although there were times when it got wordy thanks to the weird way people spoke in the 16th century.

The characters were also great. This book focused on the relationship between three people who have been demonized over the past almost five hundred years. Jane, Anne, and George Boleyn. All executed for crimes that Henry VIII took offense to. I’ve seen The Tudors. Most people have. The relationships portrayed were utterly wrong. Adrienne took the more recent views that newer historians have uncovered about them. Jane and Anne had a loving relationship. Jane even went so far as getting banished from court to defend her. Jane and George were likely happily married. They didn’t have any children, but there is no evidence to say they hated one another. Nor is there any evidence that George was a homosexual. (And I use that word since the concept of gayness is a recent one and I’m not going to apply recent terminology to something that wasn’t around.) Jane probably didn’t completely condemn her husband, purposefully or accidentally. Cromwell and other interrogators would have probably found some way to execute them no matter what Jane said.

I’ve read the books Adrienne has — Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford and George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier, and Diplomat — where they throw out those ideas, ones that are very different from the past centuries of research. It was wonderful to finally read a book that tackled those theories and actually showed me a good relationship. I’ve never seen anything positive. From The Tudors to Phillipa Gregory’s retelling in The Other Boleyn Girl (which I hate deeply), they always portray Jane’s relationship with either or even the three characters, as horrible people when they just weren’t.

I also loved the way the story was set up. There were two stories going on at the same time, one of the Boleyn rise and fall, then of Jane’s own fall and execution. They were told in alternating chapters, really. Adrienne, as she and I spoke in messages, thinks that Jane’s actions in the 1540s were a product of PTSD and depression from losing her husband and sister-in-law. Now, in the book, it doesn’t go so far as saying that. I would have liked more portrayal of PTSD (unless you argue the alternating chapters were flashbacks) in different symptoms rather than the hysterical grief. Jane was killed despite going insane, as they put it, and I loved how Adrienne wove it in. It wasn’t insanity, as the male doctors thought, just an outpouring of grief that the men didn’t understand and labeled as an unfit mind. Like hysteria was with the floating uterus.

Adrienne went above and beyond from her first book until now. However, I still did have some issues. I would have liked seeing more symptoms of PTSD. That’s probably because I’m a psychology major and have an interest in PTSD research, so I always enjoy seeing it represented in fiction. Then, there were also just character additions that made no sense. They basically played no role in the plot, so I was confused as to why they were there. Especially since I thought there would be a random love triangle when the stories about Jane, George, and Anne. For me, characters should be used smartly, not just tossed in for some drama and never used again.

Despite that, this book was really excellent on so many different levels that they were minor detractions. They didn’t take away from my overall experience and it’s a very unique take on an important time in history.

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Fire and Stars Cover

(Chantel)

4/5 – I’d just like to start by saying that this is a queer romance within a fantasy setting and I need more books like this, right now.

I’m no stranger to contemporary LGBTQ+ books, as evidenced by books that I’ve reviewed already, but this was a whole different experience for me. Honestly, I should’ve finished this book soon after I started reading it because it took me about three days to get through the majority of it.

What I was taken aback by was the political intrigue and the mystery of the book, there was something more than the romance at the forefront of the plot and I loved it. Instead of the two Princesses, Denna and Mare, instantly falling for each other and having that be the main conflict. They don’t like each other at all and slowly develop a friendship which then becomes romantic. I found it beautiful to read and it was hard to put down, and I mean that literally because I stayed up past midnight to finish the book. I had a similar experience with Everything Leads to You.

On top of the political conflict is the problem that Denna is betrothed to Mare’s brother who is in line to be King. That is one more thing that keeps them apart once they realize their feelings and honestly, I had no idea how it was going to turn out. I didn’t know if things were going to end happily or not. That’s what kept me reading. I had to figure out how or if they were going to be together. I was invested.

There are a few negatives I had, sometimes the political intrigue was hard to follow, the pacing was inconsistent, and there are a few other things. However, none of those things took away from my enjoyment of the book. I’m easy to please and this book was very pleasing. It was something new to me and a breath of fresh air. I will absolutely read more by Audrey Coulthurst when she publishes new books.

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns cover

(Chantel)

4/5 – I’ve always struggled to get into fantasy because there’s always a lot of detail and world building. However, I love world building and I love when it’s done well. So, I have to ask myself why I resisted fantasy for so long. When fantasy is done well, it’s absolutely engaging and fun. It can just be intimidating when there are series of seven books that are 500+ pages long. Luckily, you can start small and start with specific authors.

Caidyn recommended Mark Lawrence to me, and specifically Prince of Thorns which is the first book of his Broken Empire series. It’s his first series and the first book he’s ever written, and all I can say after finishing it is I can’t wait to read the next book. Even before I’ve finished this series, I can’t wait to read his others.

Now, Caidyn did warn me about the main character of the series, Prince Jorg. To put it simply, he’s a little shit. He’s a horrible human being. He’s a murderer, rapist, and overall despicable person. I did avoid reading the book at first because I was worried. I’m not a huge fan of unlikable characters and anti-heroes. I don’t root for the villains and while I don’t see the world in black and white, things like rape are unforgivable in my eyes. Not everyone is going to like Jorg and honestly, I don’t blame you if you don’t.

However, Jorg is a complex, well-written character, and a charming narrator who just happens to be an awful person. It’s important to remember he’s thirteen years old, which just makes the book that much darker and him more unreliable. He could easily be embellishing the things he’s doing.  He knows he’s a terrible person and he’s unapologetic about it. Throughout the first book, he’s not seeking redemption. In fact, he’s seeking revenge. I am certainly not rooting for Jorg to go around murdering and raping, but I’m curious as to what he’s going to do next and how the series continues.

I don’t think I can really put into words how I feel about such a complex character this soon after I’ve finished the book. All I know is he’s a terrible human being and he knows it. He’ll admit it to your face and probably stab you while doing it.